Education

First student to integrate Lexington schools helps open new high school

What can students expect at Lexington's new Frederick Douglass High?

Frederick Douglass high school principal Lester Diaz gives remarks on the ribbon cutting ceremony of the new high school on Winchester Road, and talks about what the school will offer its incoming students.
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Frederick Douglass high school principal Lester Diaz gives remarks on the ribbon cutting ceremony of the new high school on Winchester Road, and talks about what the school will offer its incoming students.

When the ribbon was cut at Fayette County’s new $82 million Frederick Douglass High School Monday, Helen Caise Wade was thinking of Lexington’s segregated school by the same name that closed more than five decades ago.

Wade, who graduated from the old Douglass High School on Price Road in 1957, said never “in my fondest dreams” would she have imagined that the new school would offer so much in the 350,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility and in its college-like curriculum.

Wade, 78, was the first student to integrate Fayette County Public Schools when she enrolled in summer school at Lafayette High in 1955 and later made strides when she went on to be a teacher at an integrated school in Cleveland. Like her own story at the old Douglass, she’s hoping that the new Douglass high school on Winchester Road will help students “rise above all.”

Principal Lester Diaz said Monday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony that hosted several Douglass alumni “paid homage to the trailblazers that came before us.”

Looking to the future, Diaz said, “I'm looking forward to working with students and making a difference in their lives, transforming their education.”

Diaz said that 943 students had enrolled by mid-Monday afternoon.

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Manzel Bush and his mother, Marcella H. Bush, both alumni of the former Frederick Douglass school had a front row seat for the speakers during a ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Frederick Douglass High School Monday in Lexington. Pablo Alcala palcala@herald-leader.com

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and Fayette County Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk were among those who spoke at the ceremony for Lexington’s sixth general public high school.

Caulk said in an interview that to have Wade at the ribbon cutting was “history in the making.”

The old Frederick Douglass High School on Price Road served black Fayette County children living outside the Lexington city limits during the segregation era. The high school closed in 1963; an elementary school was on the site until 1971.

Douglass was a leader in the anti-slavery movement and was the first black citizen to hold a high U.S. government rank, serving in several diplomatic positions.

Frederick Douglass High School will share part of the building with Carter G. Woodson Academy, a program for males with high expectations for achievement which has moved out of its space at Crawford Middle School. A news release noted that Micah Lowe, who was in the sixth-grade class when Woodson opened in 2012, spoke about the history and connections between the two men for whom the two schools are named. Douglass was a 19th-century abolitionist and orator, while Woodson was a historian, author, and educator in the early 1900s.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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